Saturday, December 03, 2005

Escape to Catalina !

There was aqua blue in whichever direction I saw...

The Pacific Ocean was looking magnanimous spreading itself all across. The wind blowing was chilling & at times the sea looked like was becoming little disturbed.

The cruise was splitting the waters and was heading towards Catalina. Standing on the deck of the ship I was lost in the enormity of the ocean. I wonder what all things the ocean has within it. It is so enormous but yet appears so calm.

No wonder they compare eyes to ocean. It is so true that beyond those eyes existed an ocean…

Before my thought stream took me further deep into the ocean, the island was getting visible. So after an hour of cruising from San Pedro we were approaching Catalina Island, our holiday destination.

Catalina Island…
A tiny but refreshingly beautiful island in Pacific hardly 25 miles away from mainland California. The idea of visiting the Catalina originated when I heard from someone in the office about the island. To accompany me in the trip was the lovely couple – Shikha & Peru.

As the cruise approached the island, we saw the coastline dotted with lots of small ships. The Casino was standing right on the coast. There were few yatches venturing into the waters.

We landed in Avalon, the only city (town) in Catalina Island. The harbor was beaming with tourists, most of them there due to Thanksgiving holidays. As I walked in the very neat streets of Avalon, I noticed that there were not many automobiles. There were restaurants, sports gear shops, souvenir shops, everything revolving around tourists.After having Potato fries & sipping soft drinks, we set to explore Avalon.

There was a range of things to experience in Avalon. Kayaking, Snorkeling, Scuba diving, Parasailing for the adventurers. There were arranged tours for people who wanted to explore the city. There were bicycles & golf cars for hire for people who wanted to explore on their own.And finally there was beach & sun for people who just wanted to relax!

Parasailing was looking very inviting & I couldn’t resist the invitation! Though I had done parasailing before in Bangalore, I had never done that on water. Shikha also got charged up to try parasailing. The motor boat carried us in the deep waters.

The parachute was attached to the boat and we strapped ourselves to the parachute. Slowly the rope attached to parachute started extending and the wind was blowing so heavily that we started floating in the air. As the rope extended further & further from boat we soared higher & higher in the air. Now we were literally in the air with parachute above and Pacific Ocean below, just hanging there with a rope. The view from the top was mesmerizing. The island & the shore were looking still more beautiful. It was blue water everywhere. At one point, parachute started descending down & down, almost few feet away from water. When I thought I’m going to land in the sea, the boat picked up the speed and again we started soaring.

All good things have to an end and so as this. Slowly the rope pulled parachute and me back to the boat. I thoroughly enjoyed the sailing and I think parasailing above water is more pleasant than on land.

Back to shore after parasailing, we hit upon the sand. The mild sun was a welcome sight.Sat on the beach chatting about the parasailing and about few of our favorite topics. Meanwhile came across a group of TCSers whom we had met at Griffith Park in the TCS picnic a week earlier. Had a brief fun chat with them before we moved ahead.

Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin…What is common to these famous men? I know you must be wondering why suddenly a quiz popped here. The next place we came across has got to say about this.

I think some of you know about Tuna, the big sea fish. Tuna is particularly known as a popular sea food and these days becoming a restricted food due to high mercury level in it. I read that it has pink flesh as against white flesh of most other ocean fishes.

There is a Tuna club which is more than 100 years old and any body who catches a Tuna can become a member. But the catch is that Tuna has to be caught using the ‘rod & reel’ only. Considering the huge size of Tuna fish and the mechanism of rod & reel, it was considered impossible to capture the Tuna fish by rod and reel. There were often injuries sustained when trying to catch the leaping Tuna. So it became associated with really skillful & adventurers. This club was for people who successfully caught Tuna. As the club’s motto say “Fair play for game fishes”, the idea of the club was to provide even chance for Tuna’s life.

By the way, all the above three personalities were associated with Tuna club.

Next on our list was Casino. This circular doom building on the coast is the landmark of Avalon,was built by Wrigley as a tourist attraction (Wrigley is the same ‘Chewing gum’ guy).If the name 'Casino' brought memories of gambling then this is the wrong place you thought of. This casino has nothing to with gambling. It is a huge theatre where movies screened and other cultural programs conducted.

Not far from Casino, on the coastline were 'Kayaks’.These is the slender, small, lightweight water crafts which are paddled with the two-sided oar. The Kayaking looked to be a popular sport in Avalon and I think it is one of the best way to explore the rugged & beautiful coastline of Avalon. Kayaks are available in single and double Kayaks. These Kayaks were said to be developed by Eskimos as a fun & easy way to navigate the waters. Though I was all excited to try it, I couldn't do it as I didn't get any partner to do it and also as my swimming was still below elementary level.

After all these events, it was time to hit upon a restaurant for the lunch. With some effort we were successful in finding a place where Veggie Pizzas were made. The family size pizza was huge but thin & it was successful in filling our stomach.

After lunch, we again hit upon the beach to get some sun. While the couple with me decided to relax in the sun, I set out to explore little bit more. There was 'Lover's Cove' on an edge of the mountain and this place is known for Snorkeling. This water sport includes putting a watertight face mask, insert into your mouth one end of the long breathing tube called a snorkel and put your face beneath the surface of the water. This way it gives a view of fishes & a view of under the water world.

I must tell about the Golf car(t)s here. On Catalina Island, full-sized automobiles, buses, and delivery trucks are severely restricted. I read that they have policy that for every two big vehicles retiring out of island, they will sanction one new vehicle and often the wait time for new full-sized vehicle is more than 25 years!

This intended discouragement of bigger vehicles is to reduce the pollution and has made golf carts the primary motorized means of transportation. Most island residents themselves own only golf carts for transportation. With golf cart speeds topping out at just about 15 miles an hour, and in-town speeds far slower than that, traffic in Avalon moves literally to a gentler pace. These golf cars can be rented to explore the island.

There was semi-submarine ride to explore the underwater world, snorkeling, scuba diving, guided tours, golf car trips and so many other exciting things to try out. But time was running out & it was time to take the cruise back to San Pedro.

So we were back in Avalon Harbor and waiting for 'Catalina Express'.On the Harbor, I noticed there was a stone statue of a seal. It was in memory of a very popular seal 'Ben' who lived on the Avalon coast and who was extremely friendly with people and famous among the tourists.

Back on the deck of the Ship, the evening in Catalina was looking beautiful. The purple waters, the island in dim light and the red sky looked as if it is straight out of a painting.Slowly the lights were glowing here and there. The Casino was beaming with lights.

We took leave of Catalina with memories of good time spent there. As I discovered, the island offered so many things and it got added to my favorite destinations.

Standing on the deck of ship, I was trying to follow the stars in the sky which were scattered all across. The cruise was speeding in the water in the darkness of night and there was a light house standing somewhere at a far distance, beaming ray of light...

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